It’s About Security, Stupid.

The average sergeant’s pay rests at a reported NGN 48,000, which at a generous exchange range of NGN200 to the US dollar, amounts to an unbelievable USD240 per month.

Nigerian police officers mount a guard of honour in Mogadishu, Somalia on Jan 15, 2015. Credit: AMISOM Public Information
Nigerian police officers mount a guard of honour in Mogadishu, Somalia on Jan 15, 2015. Credit: AMISOM Public Information

A few weeks ago, I had the misfortune of finding myself in need of the services of one of Kenya’s state bureaucracies. The officious lady at the desk asked me and a fellow Nigerian – who also wished he was anywhere but there – whether we were enjoying our time in Kenya. We said yes, and thanked her for asking. In an attempt to goad us into saying something stupid, into uttering anything that could even loosely be interpreted as rude or disrespectful, which would then, say, force us into having to provide her with some other ‘incentive’ to do her job – this is par for the course with a certain type of bureaucrat in many countries – our officer of the Kenyan State pointedly asked the pair of us whether we ‘felt safe’ in Kenya. It was no secret that our own country was a bundle of insecurity. She was glad, she continued to rub, that Kenya was able to afford us the services of protection that she perceived that our state clearly was not. My Nigerian compatriot turned to me, and I to him, we smiled and we kept silent.

The sting was at least partially provided by the truth. We are all aware of the treasonous activities of the terrorist group that has been operating in and around Nigeria’s borders since 2009 and I will not be using these pages to recant them. Suffice to say that both political parties contesting the upcoming general elections later this month have made securing the country’s northern territory a major part of their campaign platforms.

In a recent speech at London’s Chatham House, Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate from the All Progressive’s Congress (APC), gave over a significant portion of his platform to Nigeria’s future security and tackling the terrorist stain. “Apart from the civil war era”, he said, “at no other point in our history has Nigeria been this insecure. Boko… has certainly put Nigeria on the terrorism map; killing more than 13,000 of our nationals, displacing people internally and externally, and at times holding onto portions of our territory the size of Belgium.”

Buhari’s speech at Chatham House was good and appropriate. Unlike many of the disgraceful and shameless displays that have been made by Nigerian politicians, past and present, at the prestigious research institute, it was relatively intelligent, reasonably thought through and modestly articulated. It was not the speech of a philosopher king; it will not have floored intellectuals or introduced new and unheard of forms of thought and knowledge into our dictionaries. But that was never its intention. Its intention was, however, similar to the likes of those as Atiku Abubakar, who spoke at the institute in 2007, and of actual presidents as Umaru Yar’Adua in 2008. It was not directed at the Nigerian people. It aimed at securing the confidence and gaining the support of an all too important global political and economic community.

Such posturing is, of course, understandable. Nigeria, like every other member of the global political community, does not exist in isolation. Indeed, for its future development in any arena, it relies – either as buyer or seller in either an intellectual or material capacity – on the cooperation of multiple external societies. And so, it is not just Nigerian politicians, dishonourably desperate or otherwise, who come to publicly lay down their real or imagined political hearts in St James’ Square.

However, it is strange that the candidate chose the midst of what he himself noted to be a time of Nigeria’s most competitive elections to exit the Nigerian political landscape and preside over its extension in London. Politicians from economically and politically developed countries rarely make the mistake of taking the time out of their domestic election campaigns to rally overseas. One cannot help but wonder whether the droves of Nigerian supporters who came to meet Buhari at the airport in Lagos upon his return from London, were not having the very democratic integrity of their persons as Nigerians citizens – a characteristic which Buhari so exhaulted in his Chatham House speech – undermined by his leaving them while he went off to stroke the soft hairs of the international community at no less a juncture that one month before election day.

It may be that the swell in APC support is so high as to make his presence in the country unnecessary but that is not really the point. It seems that despite the rise in democratic tendencies across our continent, which Buhari acknowledged to be a positive movement, our leaders simply have not quite got to the stage where they recognise as a fundamental point of ideological belief, that their services are to their people. And that even when attention to a foreign contingent must be paid, it is only paid for the benefit which it is deemed to reap for the domestic population first and foremost.

In any case, Buhari acknowledged that this year’s elections are greatly in the focus of the international community. And chief among the reasons, he said, is that they are being held in the “shadow of huge security, economic, and social uncertainties in Africa’s most populous country and largest economy. On insecurity” Buhari went on, “there is a genuine cause for worry both within and outside Nigeria.” Our soldiers, he said, were not only capable but they were well-trained. Their peace keeping efforts in countries such as Sierra-Leone, Liberia, Darfur, and Burma was enough proof of their gallantry. Buhari assured that should he be elected, “the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has so recently. Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa.”

Well that is all very well and good and I cross all my fingers and all my toes that, should he take the presidency, his promises will bear fruit. But since Buhari’s party manifesto makes no mention of how exactly he is going to accomplish this task, I have no way whatsoever of reasonably assessing the earthly likelihood of his accomplishing his, and our, wishes. The same, of course, is exactly true of the PDP’s atrocious excuse for a political manifesto supposedly written by adults with a relatively good grasp of at least two linguistic alphabets. So I am left relying on wordy and unactualised desires, and the armed forces of Chad and Cameroon.

And if the terrorists were the only issue of insecurity, then we would have at least just one issue – albeit a great one – on which to set our gaze. For most people – the source of physical danger and instability that daily presents itself on the streets of Nigeria is not one that would concern the international observers at Chatham House. But it is certainly one that occupies the daily lives of every Nigerian. The Nigerian police officer.

The complete fear and irritation that grips all Nigerians at the sighting of a police officer, be it day time or night, is a source of insecurity so great that even when the terrorists are defeated, its continued prevalence is liable to keep Nigeria painted with the face of a near war zone.

Drunk, drugged, undisciplined, and under-paid, the police officers who menacingly roam our streets have rarely been a source of protection for any Nigerian community. Not only do they not make Nigerians feel safe, their actions very often actively generate, never mind contribute to, scenes of mindless and unnecessary violence, which do nothing but diminish the already low morale of large sections of our society. Those most harshly affected are groups of people who have no other choice but to rely on police cooperation in order to achieve their daily tasks.

The fact that many of the rank and file are grossly underpaid and poorly compensated may go some way to explaining the well known trend for soliciting bribes which appears to permeate the entire police force – and often from members of the public who can least afford to personally subsidize corrupt police officers.  Early last year, then Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar, warned that the police would not be able to pay salaries that year due to a shortfall in the Senate’s allocation of the defence budget. The issue of unpaid police salaries is neither new nor ended, with the current Inspector General, Suleiman Abba, being forced to come out as recently as last month to warn police officers not to strike over pay. The average sergeant’s pay rests at a reported NGN 48,000, which at a generous exchange range of NGN200 to the US dollar, amounts to an unbelievable USD240 per month. Inspector General Abba has reportedly made recommendations to the federal government for improved training and benefits for officers and an increase in constables salaries up to a minimum of NGN 50,000.

Such near abject poverty as well as deficient training may not only explain the rampant financial corruption, but it may also provide some reasoning for the not unusual scenes of police brutality on the one hand and sheer and utter incompetence on the other. It is with relative regularity that one may bear witness to a police officer escalating what would have been an easy to diffuse scenario by man-handling or beating a citizen to within an inch of his life in the middle of the street. Not to mention the actual crimes which many fail to either prevent or resolve since they are forever preoccupied in their own – often criminal – activities. From taxi drivers, to bus drivers, to ordinary pedestrians, there is no member of our society to whom our police guard does not constitute a grave harm. For by failing to do the job of policing they rob the entire society of its freedom and an arm of its justice.

So while the APC’s manifesto states that they will:

  • Urgently address capacity building of law enforcement agents in terms of quantity and quality as this is critical in safeguarding the sanctity of lives and property
  • Establish a well-trained, adequately equipped and goals driven Serious Crime Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, militants, ethno-religious and communal clashes nationwide
  • Begin widespread consultations to amend the Constitution to enable States and Local Governments to employ State and Community Police to address the peculiar needs of each community. This would mean setting boundaries for Federal, State and Community Police through new Criminal Justice legislation to replace the Criminal Code, the Penal Code and the Police Act.

The PDP’s “defence” objectives are as equally vague and useless for the purposes of concretely gauging how airy fairy wishes will transformed into measurable action and for keeping our government accountable by the empirically discernible milestones it sets out for itself.

The Nigerian population desperately needs to know how these objectives will be achieved. How much money will be required for each task? How will it be generated? Over what period? What training will be provided? In what format? By whom? What would a new Justice legislation look like? Who are to be the members of any judicial board that would have to inform such legislation? There are too many questions that the domestic Nigerian population does, and ought to, have for our electoral candidates. We continue to wait – whether in London or in Abuja, though for obvious reasons the latter would be preferred – for an answer so that the next time anyone condescendingly asks me about whether my country makes me ‘feel safe’, I can calmly reply: yes, thank you.

All excerpts from Buhari’s Chatham House speech have been taken from the publicly available transcripts which can be found at http://goo.gl/tVzI4U

~EAMS

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